Did the concepts of good and evil come from Zoroastrianism?

Hi. I read that the ideas of good and evil as found in Judaism and thereby Christianity were taken originaly from Zoroastrianism. Does anyone know any information reguarding this? What I read was that the Jews were the slaves of the Zoroastrianists and were practacing a form of animism before
they were exposed to the ideas/cosmology of Zoroastrianism. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks

The way I learned it, Zoroaster was a pretty even-handed Supreme Being. I remember likening it to Aristotle’s Nicomachaean Ethics–remember that one interminable part?

Yellow is the ideal. The extreme on one end is red. The extreme on the other is green. It is best to run the yellow light if there is no oncoming traffic…

You know what I’m talking about. That’s the way I learned Zoroastrianism. It’s all about the middle way. Zoroaster can be both good and evil, as a good, old time religion single deity should. And not unlike Yahweh he had a shitload of henchmen to do his dirty deeds for him and placate the polytheistics out there. There certainly are similarities, but you’d better wait for one of our eminent scholars to tear me a new one before you go and write a term paper about it…

Hmmm… That isn’t what I have read. I refer you to:http://www3.sympatico.ca/zoroastrian/
look under “perspectives”

No, not the concepts of good & evil- but the concept of there being a “good” diety and his “evil” opposite- seemed to be influenced by Zor. After that- Satan, who seemed originally to be some sort of “devils advocate”- became an “evil Power” with domination over Hell. In Zor., he would have had equal power with G-d, tho- and that concept did not show up.

Geez, could I have been more wrong?

Zoroaster (aka Zarathustra*) isn’t the deity, he’s the prophet who thought up Zoroastrianism (or, “who received the Good News from On High about Ahura Mazda”, who is the Zoroastrian Supreme Being). Or, alternatively, the prophet who reformed and codified some existing system of Ahuramazdaism.

[sub]*I dunno where Nietzsche fits in to all this.[/sub]

Close enough for theological work, guys, but let’s add these details:

Ahura Mazda, sometimes shortened to Ormuzd is the good God to whom Zoroastrians are devoted. And in this of all years, it’s worthwhile to point out that Zoroaster himself is sometimes called Zarathustra, who also sprach, at least in Richard Strauss’s opinion as a composer.

Ahura Mazda’s evil twin is Angra Mainyu, more generally shortened to Ahriman. He is god in exactly the same way as A.M. is god, but is fated to lose to A.M.

In variations on orthodox Mazdaism (the more appropriate term, just as Islam is preferred over Mohammedanism), (1) A.M. has a son Mithra, who is the prime force in overcoming Ahriman. And his devotees are “baptised” by being showered in the blood of a bull sacrificed above them. It is through mystic union with Mithra that his followers survive death. (Any resemblance to another major Western religion is purely coincidental. :rolleyes: )
(2) A.M. and Ahriman are (a) creations of a superior spirit or (b) the good and evil emanations of a transcendent force which is indifferently called Zurvan, which may or may not be a deity or a first principle, according to whether you prefer philosophical or devotional belief, I suppose.

Now, as evidenced by the Book of Job and a few other references, the Satan (not the poster, the supernatural being) was originally quite similar to the online persona of the poster: a prosecuting attorney-combined-with-investigative reporter-and-gadfly whose job it was to (a) accuse the unrighteous of their sins before God’s Judgment Seat, and (b) test their devotion to God by temptation and bad luck. Even the modern term derives from the koine Greek for this concept: the diabolos was the accuser and prosecutor in the Greek legal arena. Against him was the goel (Hebrew) or paracletos (Greek), the defense attorney.

The secular and religious leadership of Judah, taken into captivity by the Babylonians, was there during the early days of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, when Cyrus and his successors were fairly devout Mazdaists. And the idea of a subordinate evil deity in rebellion against the supreme good god strongly influenced their thought. And gave us today’s concept of Satan.

I’m sure there are some minor details with Jewish thought that I don’t have quite right here, and no doubt Chaim or Zev will be along to correct them. But in general, that represents the evolution of the concept.

So, to answer the OP, the ideas of good and evil do not derive from the Zoroastrians. But the idea of God vs. Devil in a dualist system does.

I was under the impression that Christianity has more of a dualistic nature than Judaism. Satan in Christianity being the fallen angel in competition with God for soul. While in Judaism Satan, while still an angel, wasn’t in competion, there was no fall, and only does God’s bidding.

Am I missing something here? Do both the Judaic and Christian concepts of Satan (which are clearly not the same) have a basis in Mazdaism? I know the fall of Satan is from an extra-biblical source, but don’t know how the concept arose in Judaism.

I also seem to recall you posting that the Mithraism more than likely didn’t have an influence on Christianity, but if the concept of Satan is based in Mazdaism, why is it that the story of Jesus is not, given the similarities in the stories (and even names) of Jesus and Mithra.

Mithraism, the worship of Mithra, developed out of Zoroastrianism in Persia via the Arsacids, founders of the Parthian empire in 248 BC. By that time it had absorbed many Chaldean characteristics, including zodiacal and astrological symbolism. Although Mithraism developed separately from Christianity, they shared nearly identical rituals and dogma which were both borrowed from the same sources.

Mithra was a very ancient diety, appearing in the oldest myths in both India and Persia antedating 2000 BC. Although he was not one of the seven divine originators (Ameshaspenta) he was always identified with the sun, known as the “lord of light” and was “the god of truth, cattle, agricultures, and the wide pastures; he was also the god of battle, the protector of the good men of Ahuramazda, and one of the judges at the Kinvad Bridge.” He later became the power or agency by which Ahuramazda created mankind and all good creatures, becoming the ‘Logos’ because he was called “the incarnate word.” (p. 186)

Mithra was born on December 25th, of a virgin in a cave in Persia, attended by three shepherds bearing gifts. He was worshipped on Sunday, and when Christianity finally won over the followers of Mithra, through violence and legal persecution, Sunday and Christmas were blatantly adopted as worship days to seal the fate of the Christianized cult.

Christianity finally won the battle over the followers of Mithra, in part, according to Martin Larson, because it was exclusive and had no historical founder to worship, but was invented via mythology instead of pseudo-history. Also, “Mithraism was not equipped to do battle against a priest-state; it accepted only the dedicated and the Elect who would consecrate their lives to virtue and devotion. Since its objective was not to control the government, it was tolerant of other creeds and disciplines. It invited all men, but persuaded no one, to reject the temptations of the world.” (p. 192)

DOCTRINE: The cult of Mithra taught that all souls pre-existed in the ethereal regions, and inhabited a body upon birth. Life then becomes a great struggle between good and evil, spirit and matter, the children of light versus the children of darkness (identical to Pythagoreanism, Essenism, and Pauline theology). All souls were to be judged by Mithra (represented as a bull) with the elect going to heaven, and the earthly and evil being annihilated in a great battle. Mithraism divided the human race into three classes: The spiritual Elect, the wicked, and those who try to be good but can’t seem to overcome evil. The Elect go straight to heaven, while the good-intentioned will have to wait until judgment to be resurrected, where the wicked will be destroyed.

Mithra was a savior. The cult contained seven degrees or orders. The first order was the degree of Miles, where the initiated were branded on the forehead with a cross. All communicants took oaths to never reveal the secrets of the order and “underwent frequent purificatory lustrations.”

When inducted into the degree of Leo, he was purified with honey, and baptised, not with water, but with fire, as John the Baptist declared that his successor would baptise. After this second baptism, initiates were considered “participants,” and they received the sacrament of bread and wine commemorating Mithra’s banquet at the conclusion of his labors. (p.189-90)

Although the Greeks never adopted Mithra, it was fashionable in Rome among nobles, because it taught that kingly authority is granted by Ormazd. Soldiers were also fond of Mithra, and carried the cult the farthest. Civil servants were also participants, since Mithraism taught the need for stable government. Slaves were also attracted, since Mithraism demanded social justice. However, women were completed excluded, said to be an instrument of evil temptation. Before Mithraism was outlawed and abolished, and even destroyed (very few written fragments survive) it was demonized as a false Christianity, created by the devil to imitate and thus confuse those who seek God’s real religion.

SOURCE: Martin Larson, The Story of Christian Origins (Village Press) 1977.

NOTE: There is considerable evidence that Zoroastrianism did originate the concept of good versus evil, (which doctrine also competed directly with Christianity directly as Manichaeism, a sort of bastard child of Mithraism and Zoroastriansm which featured the dualism of good and evil much more prominently than Christianity). Anyway, according to the same source here, Zoroastrianism “conceived of the world as a vast battleground on which the forces of good wage a fierce and sonstant struggle against the powers of darkness. Whenever the beneficent creator brought forth a good thing, Angra Mainyu counter-created and evil one.” (p. 90). These counter creations included entire nations, religions, robbers, assassins, droughts, deserts, winter, witches, impotence and frigity, and 99,999 diseases (p. 91).

The Zorostrian world was literally alive with good and evil spirits. Whenever anything unpleasant happened to a Mazda-worshipper, this was the work of Aharman; and whenever anyone opposed the good religion, or accepted any other, this was conclusive proof that he was possessed by a deva. A thousand years later, the Roman popes were to proclaim a parallel doctrine. (p. 91)

Not Wankel?

Well, now that I think about it, we started having problems with our LS-6 sedan about the time we became friends with Satan. You don’t suppose… :eek:

Getting serious, Brian, does your Larson book have cites for the material? It sounds like an excellent summary, in general, but I have some significant questions based on what I remember about the material.

For example, my recollection is that Mithra(s) was, admittedly, in the “cast of supporting characters” of Mazdaism from early on, but he was not seen in a significant role, much less that of soter until well into Achaemenid times, if not later. The 12/25 birthdate to a virgin is something I’ve never seen documented, though it makes sense. As for the shepherds, I’ve noted that virtually every major religious leader is visited by shepherds in his infancy – I once remarked ironically that Advanced Shepherding 201 must have included a unit on what to do when one sees signs and portents announcing the birth of a religious leader.

Huh? Christianity tended to be open to all (granted that there were some strict guidelines on what you had to do to become a Christian in the early days), Mithraism tended to “esoteric mystery religion” status. And, as the names would demonstrate, the cultus Larson describes was the Roman usage of Mithraism, and may not have been the original system of worship. No time or place was given for Mithra as historical personage, in contradistinction to the very specific accounts of what Jesus was supposed to have done when. (I read the Gospels as in general quite historical, but even on the supposition that they were fictive, they do specify times and places for most major events in Jesus’s life and ministry.) Offhand, I would say that either Larson or Brian has inverted the “it” of that sentence to refer to Christianity rather than Mithraism, the more evident reference given the allegations it makes.

Beyond that, the question of who influenced whom and what is purely coincidental (or, by my view, the subtle work of God) is quite tortured. I suggested the Satan-as-ruler-of-evil concept derived from Ahriman simply because the Satan-as-God’s-prosecutor concept appears to have been prevalent in Jewish thought before the Exile, and the Jews were exposed to a culture in which Mazdaism was a major part at that time, and came away with a new concept of Satan that seems to match the one of Ahriman, already in existence for substantial time.

I would love to see Chaim, Zev, or CK post something on Satan’s position in post-Biblical Jewish thought, as it’s something I know little about. But I’d have to say that Mayor Quimby’s analysis seems, as a first cut, to be about on target: Satan plays a much more major role in Christian thought than in Jewish, so far as I can tell.

I may be setting myself up for a “D’oh” here, but I fail to see the significance of a connection between Jesus and Mithra as regards nomenclature. Jesus is the Greco-Latin form of the Hebrew name Yehoshua, “Yah is salvation” (Yah being shorthand for the Holy Name That Must Not Be Spoken), previously held by the son of Nun that succeeded Moses and conquered the Holy Land, the high priest in Nehemiah’s time, the son of Sirach who wrote the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, and probably Barabbas the robber of the Gospels, among several others.

As for the bread and wine, who the heck knows who started what here? Quite simply, in most of the ancient world, a typical meal included bread, wine, and a meat dish when one had one. Jesus invested it with special meaning at the Last Supper; it was symbolical of Mithra’s banquet. And probably Socrates ate bread and wine with his disciples, though the Neo-Platonists never made a big deal about it. To suggest a connection must exist is like deriving a post-church coffee hour from the Japanese tea ceremony, clearly the influence of Zen on modernist Christian practice! :rolleyes:

Although this thread does have one major redeeming quality: it may provoke Gaudere to post her Mithramas carol here! :slight_smile:

*Originally posted by Polycarp *

Judaism doesn’t believe in a Satan in the Christian sense. There is no “opposite number” to God who tempts people into evil. Even the “Satan” mentioned in Job is God’s servant, acting as a prosecuting attorney of sorts, but definitely not a rebel against Him.

Judaism does believe in something called the Yetzer Hora, the Evil Inclination. This, however, is not a person or entity, but an internal force within each of us. My yetzer hora, for example, encourages my laziness, making it hard for me to get up for prayers in the morning.

Zev Steinhardt

My quote:

Christianity finally won the battle over the followers of Mithra, in part, according to Martin Larson, because it was exclusive and had no historical founder to worship, but was invented via mythology instead of pseudo-history.

Polycarp, this was a rare case of ambiguity on my part. It should read, “because the cult of Mithra had no historical founder but was invented via mythology” (rather than simply “it”)… Sorry.

Yes, there are ample quotes throughout the book, which I highly recommend. I intend on doing a general synopsis and posting it somewhere permanently, since it is O.O.P., beginning with Isis and Osiris in Egypt. According to Larson, Christianity is very little Judaism, mostly paganism evolving from the Orphic-Eleusinian rituals, then a huge wholesale refinement from Zoroastrian via the Pythagoreans and then Essenes, who are church related to those thasoi that ancient dramas (and Plato) ridiculed, who used to wander around the ancient world and preach destruction upon cities. Mithra and Manichaeism were merely similar spawns. I will quote any source you ask.

Mind if I hijack? If you do, just kick me out into another thread, I won’t complain, I promise.

Is there anything about Christianity that wasn’t adopted from a pagan religion? Christmas and Sunday from Mithraism, whackloads of Saints from European pagan gods, Easter (if I remember correctly), etc, etc…

Laurange, the pagan parts of any religion are the only ones that I find interesting. Easter was from Phrygia, the four-day spring passion rite of Attis and Cybele, where a sacred effigy was affixed to a tree, initiate monks then castrated themselves under it, then afterwards the effigy was transferred to a tomb, then on the last day the tomb opened and the effigy gone, with much Saturnalia to celebrate the resurrection. Then the stone covering the tomb was washed in the river, then returned to its sacred place in the temple. It all seems to have originated from Isis and Osiris. (Larson, 57)

And Christianity is not the only religion to currently be re-examined. Judaism is undergoing some inspection also.


The concepts of good and evil originated before man. Read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. Follow the logic and ignore or accept for yourself.